A ‘purple passage’
This is the introduction to a speech about broadband communications. It was delivered by a French CEO who spoke with lot of panache and it would only work with a natural performer as speaker. I would never try something like this for a speaker whose style was more conversational.
The copper wires that carry telephony and the internet to Britain’s homes and offices have laid in their ducts or hung from their poles for up to 40 years. And for decades they carried nothing but phone calls – people talking to each other. They were simply ‘talking wires’. With the advent of the mass market internet in the late 90s, the wires started to carry data, information, education, emails, radio broadcasts and – controversially – music. In other words, they began to sing a little. Now, the broadband internet is here, with the potential to transform these same lines into full-scale entertainment highways, carrying action movies, interactive games, and multimedia services of all kinds. The wires are starting to dance.
This is part of a speech in which a business leader was speaking at the company’s showcase building to a group of community leaders who run projects in areas such as health and homelessness. This passage was intended to help bridge the gulf that some in the audience might have felt between the executive lifestyle on display and their own everyday experience among deprived communities.
We need to share expertise and pool our experience. In ordinary parlance it’s called swapping ideas – but in business-speak as you may know it’s called ‘knowledge management’. For example, we can learn from the way you minimise your costs. Social entrepreneurs usually have no choice but to work with very little money. In ordinary parlance this is called being skint – but in business-speak it’s called ‘having a world class cost base’. And we can also learn from your determination. We can learn to work as hard as you do to overcome those things that ordinary people call ‘problems’, but business people call ‘opportunities’. You may even have heard of the CEO who insisted that his company never had problems, only “opportunities” – and he insisted on this right up to the day when his finance director came to see him and said “I’m afraid I have to report that our opportunities have become insurmountable.”
A rallying cry
Finally, here is a speech – edited to protect identities – which was written in about an hour at one company’s senior management conference at the Amsterdam Hilton. It was challenging time for the company concerned in which many executives were about to take on new responsibilities in a re-organization. Although I’d been asked to write the CEO’s opening speech, no-one knew if he wanted a text for the closing one. But shortly before the speech had to be given, he asked me to “Give me something really emotional” – and promptly disappeared. He clearly didn’t want a video of ‘Love Story’, so this is what I wrote.
You’ll probably have noticed that this is the hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous ‘bed-in’. Thirty years ago, they addressed the world’s media from a rather large double bed in room 702. Now I’m not suggesting that this should be the model for our press conferences in the future, but I am going to borrow a few lines from John Lennon and the Beatles. I was thinking – what Beatles songs would give us the right inspiration? ‘Let it be’? Certainly not – we need to do anything but let it be. ‘Imagine’? No. We want action – not people imagining things. How about this – ‘ Help!’ Well I guess that’s how a lot of you feel – and sometimes it’s how I feel too. In fact, given the challenges we face – and the changes we need to make, you’d be a fool if you didn’t think ‘Help!’ We have more to do than most companies – and as xxx pointed out, we’re giving ourselves less time to do it than most companies. Individually, none of us can do this – we can only do it collectively – by working with each other and helping each other……
….OK let’s move on – next Beatles song – Drive my car. You are all drivers now. None of you are passengers. Put it another way, you all have to be leaders now, not just managers. And what’s the difference? Well I could give you lots, but I’ll stick to one. Managers make plans – but leaders make choices. Managers can draw up a plan to get from A to B, set a budget, hit the timetable. Leaders have to decide where they are going. They have to choose NOT to do certain things. As the old saying has it, ‘to govern is to choose’. Now in the last year, I have made some choices. The Board has made some choices. The company as a whole has made some choices. Now it’s YOUR turn to make some choices. And it’s time to really motivate your people……
…Let me give you one final John Lennon song – ‘In My Life’. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked out how much of your life you spend on work. I know it seems like 100% – but for many of you it’s probably around 60 or 70% of your waking hours. So what happens at work is important in our lives – and our people’s lives. And this is a crucial point in those lives. What we do over the next few months – the next 100 days – is going to matter for a long time. 100 days is always a symbolic period of time. American Presidents get judged on their first 100 days. Harold Wilson talked about ‘100 days of dynamic action’ back in 1964. Well, 100 days from now will be the beginning of March. Plenty will have changed by then. …..The next 100 days is going to be critical for all of us. So what kind of period will it be in your life? How will you remember it when you’ve retired? Because sure as hell, you will remember it. Will it be your great achievement? Or will it be something you’d rather forget? Let’s make the next 100 days count. Let’s make them 100 days that each of us will remember with pride. We have the talent as individuals. We have the strength as a team. We can do this. So let’s just go and do it.